For those buying into the concept of absence makes the heart grow fonder, the fact that Slaid Cleaves unintentionally missed Birmingham off his previous touring schedule may have been a blessing in disguise. Slaid has always been well supported at the Kitchen Garden Café and for his triumphant return the house full sign was almost being dusted down. On an upgrade from his previous Birmingham dates, Slaid was this time accompanied by his sidekick Scrappy Jud Newcomb and together they reeled off a continual chain of popular tunes, well received by many long term fans populating the audience. Right from the opening chords of ‘Horseshoe Lounge’ to a poignant unplugged tribute to the late Ian MacLagan over two hours later, there was a distinctive Texas flavour from an honorary Texan now fully steeped in the Lone Star State’s poetic culture.
With no apparent set list visible it didn’t take long for the requests to kick in and probably nearly a third of the set were audience shout outs stretching Slaid’s memory acumen to its limit. Any doubts about immaculate recollection from his deep back catalogue vault were soon removed especially when dealing with ‘Borderline’ and his eight minute folk epic ‘Breakfast in Hell’. As the requests rolled in, favourite songs such as ‘Quick as Dreams’, ‘Lydia’ and ‘Horses and Divorces’ rolled out leaving many Slaid fans content that the unfortunate wrong of missing the city last time had been fully rectified.
Last time Slaid toured the UK he was supporting his latest record STILL FIGHTING THE WAR and with copies to sell to those who had yet to buy the record, a number of tracks infiltrated the set with promotional intent. Amongst these was the fabulous ‘Texas Love Song’ which proved one of the pivotal high spots on the evening. The album version featured Terri Hendrix and she was one of many Texas musicians namechecked during the evening including Don Walser and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Slaid never fails to relay stories of his long term association with Rod Picott and two of their most popular co-writes illuminated the opening set in ‘Welding Burns’ and ‘Broke Down’. The latter usually gets its introduction as the song which lifted Slaid up the inconspicuous ladder of muted fame. Like so many Americana artists out of Austin, Slaid was quick to be appreciative of the help Bob Harris had given them to make touring the UK a viable option.
Scrappy Jud’s contribution to the evening ranged from some serious twang emerging out of his slide acoustic playing to a baritone sound emanating from his second guitar. He also sang lead vocals on one of his own songs and backed Slaid on many others. The pair has developed that telepathic intuition required for a successful duo style and several songs were enhanced with the occasional fluid lead guitar breaks. Many lauded songs continued to flow from the floor as we were treated to ‘Cry’, ‘Wishbones’ and another crowd favourite ‘One Good Year’. Like so many artists operating at this level, there is not a single shred of indifference to the show, with such humility and gratefulness being a blessing for performers rich in talent, but forever denied that big break.
Slaid Cleaves is an artist content with his lot and gets much satisfaction in sharing his songs with enthusiastic and dedicated audiences where compromise is not an option. The songs are a pure poetic masterpiece of Americana landscape, observation and soul with their author perfectly at ease in using his gifts to entertain via the fruits of his craft. Tonight was a reminder that Slaid Cleaves is a sheer classy songwriter and we were promised no more Birmingham omissions from future tours.